Jim Curtin

Union's season ends with loss to NYCFC in MLS knockout round

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Union's season ends with loss to NYCFC in MLS knockout round

BOX SCORE

After suffering a lopsided defeat to NYCFC in the season finale at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, the Union marched back up to the Bronx on Wednesday night and did it again, falling, 3-1, in the knockout round of the 2018 MLS Playoffs to end their season.

• It was the fourth playoff match in franchise history for the Union and also their fourth loss. The club has yet to win a playoff game in its nine-year history. NYCFC moves on to face Atlanta United in a home-and-home aggregate series. 

• Union manager Jim Curtin put his fingerprint on the playoff match by slotting Alejandro Bedoya in at his natural right attacking midfield side, while tapping veteran Warren Creavalle to break up the middle of the field next to Haris Medunjanin. 

• It was a creative idea that ultimately failed to impact the match. Creavalle was pulled for Ilsinho at the half as the Union pushed for a more sustained offense. It took a while but paid off in the 83rd minute, when Ilsinho found Burke for the cross and tap-in goal to make it 3-1. 

• Before that, though, off a Mark McKenzie turnover in the 10th minute, NYCFC opened the scoring on a beautiful play. A Maxi Moralez pass found Ismael Tajouri-Shradi for the half bounce rocket to beat Andre Blake and claim the 1-0 NYCFC lead. David Villa doubled the NYCFC lead in the 26th minute. 

• The Union appeared to gain traction late in the first half when Bedoya was de-cleated in the box. It should have been a penalty kick but somehow went uncalled. It was that kind of night. The Union finished the first half with no shots on goal and just two in the second. 

• It didn’t get much better in the second half. As the Union pressed, Moralez chipped Blake on a fast break for the 3-0 lead. The Union were thoroughly outclassed all match long and especially struggled to generate offensive chances.

• The sting of defeat in important matches is a familiar one for the Union, who have lost four playoff matches and three U.S. Open Cup finals in the club’s history. Wednesday wasn’t even the most painful of the season, as the Union were crushed in Houston against the non-playoff Dynamo, 3-0, in the Open Cup finals back in September.

• But despite the disappointment, it was still a record season for the 2018 Union, who claimed the franchise record in total points, wins and road wins. Midfielder Borek Dockal took the MLS assist crown and young defenders McKenzie and Auston Trusty made names for themselves. Things have been worse for the Union.

Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

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Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Celebratory beers sat mostly untouched in the Union locker room.

Following a 5-1 playoff-clinching win over Minnesota United on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium (see observations), the players had reason to celebrate. Instead, they were jovial but subdued. With two matches remaining and first-round home-field advantage in play, the reason was made clear. 

“They’re not satisfied,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club can finish as high as third in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. “We have a very humble and hungry locker room.”

It’s just the third time the Union have clinched a playoff berth, and nearly a decade since they did so with confidence. Curtin’s club limped into the postseason in 2016 riding a bevy of losses, only to be dismantled by Toronto FC when it got there. 

“We had just backed in, we weren’t in good form going into that game against Toronto,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya. “This feels a lot better.”

It also feels different. 

“You learn the most about your group in the hard moments,” said Curtin, who transformed his struggling club into an Eastern Conference player. “Not only did they pass, but they did so with style.”

With the win on Saturday, the Union, who already demolished a franchise record with 15 wins, surpassed the 2011 team for the franchise-high point total with 50. But what seemed like a true departure from past Union teams, is with a chance to take the easy road with a victory against a non-playoff team at home — they took it with authority. 

“I’ve been here for a while, I’ve seen it all,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I’ve seen this team grow a lot. We’ve learned to close games out, we’ve learned to dominate when we need to. Tough times can make you or break you and it’s been making us.” 

Led by Fafa Picault’s two, the Union scored four first-half goals and toyed with Minnesota throughout. At times it felt more like an early-round U.S. Open Cup match than a late-season MLS tilt. Credit goes to the Union for living up to the moment and seizing opportunity. 

“We don’t suck,” Picault said. “We’re doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been through the hard times together and the good ones. It’s important we continue to do that. We’re not going to get overly confident and overhype the situation.”

The Union are now staring down New York City FC at the No. 3 spot in the East. With the win on Saturday, the Union jumped over the Columbus Crew (48 points) to claim the fourth spot. The Union face NYCFC on the road in the season finale. 

“We want to climb the table as high as we can,” Picault said. “We’re trying to get third or fourth place. The job is not done, but tonight we’re happy with what we’ve done on the field and we want to keep that going into the next two games.” 

Union becoming Buffalo Bills of U.S. Open Cup

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Union becoming Buffalo Bills of U.S. Open Cup

The Union aren't quite the Buffalo Bills of the U.S. Open Cup, but they're getting close.

Mauro Manotas scored a pair of first-half goals as the shaky Union were toppled by the Houston Dynamo, 3-0, on a rainy Wednesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium.

It marked the club's third Open Cup finals loss in five seasons. 

After losing to the Seattle Sounders in 2014 and Sporting Kansas City in 2015, both at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union hit the road for their third Open Cup finals. But unlike the Sounders match, when the Union relinquished the lead, and the SKC match, which went to penalty kicks, this one wasn't competitive.

The Dynamo opened the scoring in the fourth minute on a brutal defensive breakdown by the Union. Beating Auston Trusty to the ball on the goal line, Alberth Elis placed a bouncing cross between defender Jack Elliott and goalkeeper Andre Blake, giving Manotas the easy header goal.

Manotas made it 2-0 in the 25th minute, when he moved past Trusty, easily gained the top of the box, and ripped a shot that rolled past the fingertips of Blake and in. It was a back-breaker for the Union, who put an onus on keeping Manotas in check.

Trusty's poor night went from bad to worse in the 65th minute, when he scored an own-goal off a rebound for the 3-0 Dynamo lead. It wasn't a mistimed header either, he kicked it right in. Would have been a strong finish if it was on the opposing goal.

Union manager Jim Curtin pulled Cory Burke for Jay Simpson in the 68th minute. It was the right move, albeit a tad late. Simpson, the reigning MLS player of the week, had three shots in under 20 minutes, while Burke finished with three on the night.

Former Union player Andrew Wenger made the start for the Dynamo. If you can remember, it was Wenger who missed a crucial penalty kick in the Union's PK loss to SKC in 2015. He had the last laugh.

The Union will look to put this devastating loss aside quickly as they visit the Columbus Crew in MLS action on Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium. The Union are one point behind the Crew for No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.